Social services


The World Bank and education

23 January 2006 | Inside the institutions


The World Bank’s assistance for education “focuses on helping countries maximise the impact of education on economic growth and poverty reduction”. It is the “world’s largest single provider of external funding for education”, and also provides policy advice, analysis and technical assistance. Bank lending for education began in 1963 and now constitutes nine per cent of its total lending, the fifth largest sector. Total World Bank lending for education last year was just under $2 billion across all projects and sectors up from $728 million in 2000. Primary education receives the largest percentage of lending, constituting 29 per cent of the total in 2005.

There are currently 182 staff in the Bank’s education team. It is directed by Ruth Kagia. In response to Bretton Woods Project requests the Bank was unable to give an estimate of its administrative budget for education across the World Bank Group.

The Bank supports two broad themes:

the world's largest single provider of external funding for education
  • Education for All (EFA): focussing on the 1990 global commitment to give “every citizen in every society” the opportunity for a basic education, and
  • Education for the knowledge economy (EKE): based on the need to develop a well trained workforce “capable of generating knowledge-driven economic growth”.

Key priorities cut across both themes: Economics of education and school health and HIV/AIDS, which underscore the critical need to integrate education into a country’s overall development context.

Regional priorities

Last year, the largest amount of education lending was to the Latin America and Caribbean region, totalling $680 million and constituting 34 per cent of the total. The second largest amount of $369 million was to the Africa region, a total of 19 per cent. The largest number of new education projects in 2005 was in the Europe and Central Asia region which held 24 per cent of all new education projects.

Detailed aggregate data on Bank lending trends and operations in the education sector can be found on its website and through the EdStats World Bank financing modules and World Bank’s project database.

Education for All

This is an “international effort to provide every boy and girl in the developing world with a good-quality, free and compulsory primary school education”. The World Bank supports EFA efforts primarily through:

  • increasing access, equity, quality and learning outcomes;
  • focusing on girls’ education to improve retention rates;
  • helping education systems cope with HIV/AIDS;
  • promoting early childhood development; and
  • protecting EFA prospects in post-conflict countries.

The Education for All – Fast Track Initiative (FTI) is supported by the Bank and more than 30 bilateral, regional and international agencies and development banks. It was launched as a global partnership between donor and developing countries to ensure accelerated progress towards the Millennium Development Goal of universal primary education by 2015. All low-income countries demonstrating “serious commitment to achieve universal primary completion” by developing sound national education plans can receive FTI support. As of January 2006, 20 developing countries are FTI partners. Donors provide financial and technical support. The Bank hosts the FTI but it is unclear if it provides financial support to it.

The Bank also recognises the need to increase the impact of adult basic education programmes as a part of EFA planning. It has established a unit to strengthen support for non-formal education efforts for children and youth and to help improve their transition to the labour market.

Education for the knowledge economy

This aims to help developing countries equip themselves with the “skilled and flexible human capital needed to compete effectively in today’s dynamic global markets”, adapt to changing market demands and new technologies. Its efforts focus on: secondary and tertiary education; lifelong learning; science, technology and innovation; information and communications technology (ICT); and cross-cutting efforts to rethink the role of the state.

Bank efforts focus on:

  • formation of a strong human capital base to provide relevant education to a larger share of each new generation of young people through expanded secondary and tertiary education; and training and retraining the existing labour force by providing opportunities to those who were unable to complete secondary or enter tertiary education.
  • Construction of an effective national innovation system (NIS): a well-articulated network of firms, research centres and universities that work together to take advantage of the growing stock of global knowledge, assimilate and adapt it to local needs, and create new technology. Tertiary education systems figure prominently in NISs.